A Kelpie, a Selkie and a Stoorworm…

Scotland is a treasure house of stories, from myths and legends to wee tales told to children at night. These strange and fantastical tales have inspired writers, artists and poets for centuries. Robert Burns and Robert Louis Stevenson both recalled as adults the tales of ghosts, magic and witches they had heard as children. So, since it is National Storytelling Week we’ve hunted out a couple of tales of intriguing monsters and creatures to share with you all.

Firstly we look at the Stoorworm. This was a gigantic sea dragon which was said to demolish boats and even drag entire villages into the sea. The Stoorworm lived in the sea around Scotland and had to be destroyed. In the end a young lad, the son of a local farmer, killed the beast. He managed to sail into the heart of the beast where he set a fire. Eventually the dragon was in such pain he spat the lad out who struck the monster on his head with such force he apparently knocked him out for ten thousand years and a day.

The force of the blow knocked out the Stoorworms tongue and eyes and teeth. The tongue went east and landed between Scotland and Norway, which had been connected but were split apart from the force, creating the North Sea. The eye went west spinning round and round and created a whirlpool between Jura and Scarba which is now the Whirlpool of the Corryvreckan. The teeth fell one by one around Scotland and formed isles, islets and skerries which became the Shetland Islands, the Orkney Islands and the Hebrides. Meanwhile, the body went north and landed near the top of the world where the Arctic Ocean froze around it. The body still lies there below snow and ice as Iceland but every now and then when he is disturbed fire and smoke leaps up into the sky.

The Stoorworm?


Some more familiar creatures are kelpies and selkies. Kelpies are supernatural water horses that haunt Scotlands lochs and rivers. They appear as a lost pony, often grey or white, and would entice people to ride on their backs before taking them down to a watery grave. Luckily they are easy to spot due to their constantly dripping mane.

A Kelpie?


Selkies meanwhile are creatures that can transform themselves from seal to human form and back again. In order to shapeshift selkies had to cast off their sealskins. Within these magical skins lay the power to return to seal form, and therefore the sea. According to legend if a man steals a female selkie’s skin she is in his power and can be forced to become his wife. However, because their true home is the sea, they will often be seen gazing longingly at the ocean. If the selkie finds her skin she can escape and return to her true home.


Loch Ness Monster

Finally we just had to include Scotlands most famous creature, Nessie. The Loch Ness monster is a large dinosaur-like creature which makes its home in Loch Ness. Sightings of Nessie have reportedly occured since the 6th Century with the first recorded sighting of the monster nearly 1,500 years ago in 565AD.  It is said that an Irish monk, Saint Columba, was staying with some friends when he came across the locals burying a man by the River Ness. They explained that the man had been swimming the river when he was attacked by a “water beast” that had mauled him and dragged him under. Columba sent one of his followers to swim across the river and the beast came after him.  Columba made a sign of the cross and commanded the beast not to touch the man and to go back at once.  The creature halted and retreated, and the Picts praised God for the miracle.

The Real Nessie?


Hopefully you enjoyed these tales. As always please like, share, comment, follow and if you want to learn more come along to Culloden on 6th February for storytelling and crafts covering all these legends and more. http://www.nts.org.uk/Culloden/Visit/Events/

All the best, K & D

Robert Burns and Culloden

Since the 25th January is Burns Night we thought we’d do a little blog looking into the famous poet and his small connection with Culloden.

Potrait of Robert Burns

Robert Burns travelled with his friend William Nicol from Edinburgh and travelled some 600 miles across Scotland on his ‘Highland Tour’. The trip stopped at sites of historical significance including Killiecrankie and Burns visited Culloden on 6th September 1787. He wrote little in his diary of his time in and around Inverness but his works suggest Culloden may have stayed in his mind.

His poem ‘The Lovely Lass O’ Inverness’ which is believed to have been written during the last three years of Burns’ life alludes to Culloden and there is also ‘The Highland Widows Lament’ which is said to be Burns’ version of a Gaelic lament about Culloden.

The Lovely Lass O’ Inverness

The lovely lass o’ Inverness,
Nae joy nor pleasure can she see;
For, e’en to morn she cries, alas!
And aye the saut tear blin’s her e’e.

Drumossie moor, Drumossie day-
A waefu’ day it was to me!
For there I lost my father dear,
My father dear, and brethren three.

Their winding-sheet the bluidy clay,
Their graves are growin’ green to see;
And by them lies the dearest lad
That ever blest a woman’s e’e!

Now wae to thee, thou cruel lord,
A bluidy man I trow thou be;
For mony a heart thou has made sair,
That ne’er did wrang to thine or thee!

Culloden, Inverness.
Culloden Battlefield

The Highland Widows Lament

Oh I am come to the low Countrie,
Ochon, Ochon, Ochrie!
Without a penny in my purse,
To buy a meal to me.

It was na sae in the Highland hills,
Ochon, Ochon, Ochrie!
Nae woman in the Country wide,
Sae happy was as me.

For then I had a score o’kye,
Ochon, Ochon, Ochrie!
Feeding on you hill sae high,
And giving milk to me.

And there I had three score o’yowes,
Ochon, Ochon, Ochrie!
Skipping on yon bonie knowes,
And casting woo’ to me.

I was the happiest of a’ the Clan,
Sair, sair, may I repine;
For Donald was the brawest man,
And Donald he was mine.

Till Charlie Stewart cam at last,
Sae far to set us free;
My Donald’s arm was wanted then,
For Scotland and for me.

Their waefu’ fate what need I tell,
Right to the wrang did yield;
My Donald and his Country fell,
Upon Culloden field.

Oh I am come to the low Countrie,
Ochon, Ochon, Ochrie!
Nae woman in the warld wide,
Sae wretched now as me.

We felt it only fitting to share these works and hopefully you enjoyed reading them. As always please like, tweet, comment and check out the Robert Burns Birthplace Museum for more information about the famous bard.

All the best, K & D

A Selection of Staircases

This week we were chatting and I ended up mentioning one of the staircases at Brodie Castle which I use to takes tours in. Anyway, one thing lead to another and we thought it might just make a good blog to showcase some of the staircases at National Trust for Scotland properties.

So, first and foremost the Brodie Castle staircase it began with. Whilst at Brodie I used to be a tour guide and took people around the castle which was great fun. And, whilst I loved the rooms and the history, it was the sprial staircase that always made me smile and make me feel like an excited child for getting to climb up it.

Brodie Castle.


Brodie Castle, is not really a castle but is in fact a tower house which originally followed the classic Z-plan house design. This meant there were two tower in diagonal corners and the way up these towers was, as you may have guessed, a small spiral staircase. One staircase has since been removed but the other one still lives on and is accessible to guest as you make your way from the Red Drawing Room up to the Gallery. It’s the perfect small space that makes you feel that little bit devilish for going up it and adds that little thrill to the experience.

Meanwhile, Fyvie Castle has a slightly larger version. Considered one of the finest stone-wheel staircases in Scotland Fyvie’s staircase was built by the First Earl of Dunfermline and is an impressive ten feet wide. There other examples around including Glamis Castle but unlike theres Fyvies central post is not hollow but a solid cylinder. The staircases goes up three floors and is again fully accessible. If you’re good you’ll also notice pits in the stairs where it is said some rather drunken men rode their horses up the stairs.

Fyvie Castle’s spiral staircase


If you ever get a chance to see these staircases or indeed most old spiral stairs you may notice that most will tend to put your right hand side in the centre as you ascend and on the outside of the stairs as you descend. This was actually done for tactical reason in the times when enemies were a concern. Any enemies coming up the stairs would find their right had, traditionally their sword hand confined and therefore they would be unable to wield their weapon. Those coming down to protect the castle would however be free to move their right hand and attack any men approaching from below. Very convenient.

Stairs at Holmwood House


If these staircases are a little far north for you have no fear; just a few miles outside of Glasgow there is the little gem of Holmwood House. The National Trust for Scotland managed to save the property from development plans in 1994 and is a prime example of conservation in action with restoration of the villa ongoing so there is always something new to see. This unique house has been described as Alexander ‘Greek’ Thomson’s finest domestic design and its staircase is gorgeous. Known as the star staircase the stairs are lined with beautiful mahogany carved bannisters before culminating under a magnificent cupola.

The cupola at Holmwood


And finally we couldn’t make this list without input from the stunning Culzean Castle. The castle is a great example of high-clas 18th Century living and the main staircase is no exception. A Robert Adam masterpiece, the Oval Staircase lies at the heart of Culzean Castle. It is famous for its soaring colonnades, grand oil paintings and dramatic carpet. And of course the glass cupola above which floods light into the space below. It’s so glamorous you can even get married on the staircase.

The Oval Staircase at Culzean Castle


So, that’s our top picks for staircases, hopefully you’ve enjoyed it and as always please tweet, like, comment, share and try not to get to worn out thinking of climbing all those stairs.

All the best, K & D



Manchester Regiment

The Manchester Regiment was a unit of soldiers recruited by the Jacobites in Manchester during the 1745 Jacobite Rebellion.

The majority of the regiment was recruited from the north of England after the surrender of Carlisle on 17th Nov 1745 but there were also men who were English prisoners that joined the Princes army after Prestonpans.

On 19th November 1745  the Prince Charles Edward Stuart and his army entered Manchester to loud acclamation and ringing of bells. To encourage support and please the town it was thought wise that recruits should be enrolled into what would be called ‘The Manchester Regiment’.

The regiment formed around a nucleus of English officers and men from the Duke of Perths Regiment, this was originally to have been commanded by Captain Sir Francis Geohegan from France but for the sake of political expediency it was instead given to an Englishman, Francis Towneley. By the 30th Nov recruits were speedily raised and mustered within the precincts of the Collegiate Church in Manchester, the focal point of Jacobite sympathy for a generation or more.

Initially recruits were given blue and white ribbons formed into ‘favours’ but afterwards rank and file were reported to have worn blue coats. One witness stated the regiments colours had the words Liberty and Property inscribed on one side and Church and Country on the other, whilst another recalled the men with white colours with red crosses. It is said the officers never sought pay for themselves or their men, maintaining the regiment by their own means.

The strength of the regiment never exceeded 300 men and accompanied the Prince to Derby and then back to Carlisle. Many men deserted along the way and at Carlisle only some 118 men remained. They stayed at Carlisle to form part of a 300-400 strong garrison left to hold the town as the main Jacobite army continued north.

On 21st December 1745 the Duke of Cumberland lay siege to Carlisle with huge gun batteries. He set blockades and established a battery on Carlisle castles west curtain. His hopes was that by aiming his main fire at the west curtaun he could batter the Jacobites into submission without inflicting unacceptable collateral damage on the towns inhabitants and property. Eventually the Jacobites were forced to surrender.

carlisle castle
Carlisle Castle

After the men surrendered to the Duke of Cumberland they were held in a dungeon in Carlisle castle without food, water or sanitation facilities until they were brought out for execution. Today you can apparently still see the so-called “licking-stones”, where desperate prisoners licked the walls to obtain some moisture.

The executions of the men were staggered with nearly all the officers and sergeants of the Manchester Regiment hanged. Most of the men were not executed but were transported with at least thirteen men recroded as having been shipped to Antigua.

Hopefully this has given you a bit more information about just one of the regiments that fought with the Jacobite army. As always please like, share, comment, follow and if you like this we might do some more posts looking into regiments in the ’45.

All the best K & D


Jacobite Legends

Over the years the Jacobites have been romanticised and the stories of the times told and retold leading to some interesting legends that seem to be part fact, part fiction. So, we thought it only fair to share a couple legends and let you decide how much to truly believe.

Firstly ‘The Princes Flower’.

Before he reached Glenfinnan to raise the Jacobite standard in 1745 the ‘young pretender’, Prince Charles Edward Stuart, first arrived at the island of Eriskay. He had travelled on the French Frigate the Du Teillay. The weather was typical for the area and time of year and the small frigate was buffeted by harsh weather. Charles made the decision to land on the island and a small party rowed ashore.

The tiny boat made landfall at a small inlet which has come to be known as ‘Coilleag d’Phrionnso’ (The Prince’s Strand). As the Prince stepped ashore he reached into his pocket for a handkerchief and a handful of flower seeds fell out. The seeds grew by the beach and  rare pink flowers grew at the spot not found anywhere else on the Hebrides. They have come to be known as the prince’s flower for this reason though are actually Sea Bindweed. It has been observed that when anyone tries to move the plants from the island to another location they never flourish.

princes flower
The Prince’s Flower


The Prince also brought something else with him which was more than welcome. When he met the MacKinnon’s of Skye he gave them a recipe for a whisky liqueur. This liqueur was Drambuie which has become famous all over the world.


This first legend is a nice one but the next I’m afraid is slightly gruesome and is known as ‘The Appin Dirk’.

It was June 1746, only a few months after Culloden, Government troops were still engaged in a frenzy of looting and burning as they carried out Cumberland’s orders. One such detachment was passing through Lochaber and Appin on their way to the barracks at Inveraray.

On one particular evening, as the troops moved through the Strath of Appin they encountered a young woman milking her cow in a nearby field. The sergeant who commanded the detachment leapt over the small wall into the field and with no warning shot the cow dead. With the cow dead he then advanced on the young woman – his intentions almost certainly dishonourable.

The young woman fought off the sergeant and ran off towards the Appin shore as he pursued her. In a last desperate attempt to make good her escape she picked up a good sized stone from the shore and hurled it at the sergeant with all her might. Whether by great accuracy or sheer luck the stone struck the sergeant square on the forehead, stunning him and knocking him to the ground. Her good shot gave her the few precious seconds she needed to make it to the shore where she knew a small boat lay moored. As the other soldiers tried to pursue her she managed to quickly row out of range and off to a small island where she sheltered for some time.

The sergeant was less fortunate, the blow had been more serious than the soldiers had at first realised. He was taken to a nearby place where they could stop for the night but as the evening wore on his condition became worse (some even said the stone itself had been cursed) and he eventually died from his wounds. The other soldiers decided to bury him in the nearby churchyard; the old churchyard of Airds and move on.

The local men were appalled that the man should seemingly contaminate their churchyard. As soon as the detachment had gone they stole into the churchyard and dug up his body. They carried him down to the sea but were stopped on the way by the brother of the young woman who had been attacked. He pulled out a knife and tore the skin from the arm of the wicked sergeant. This he took away with him. The corpse was then, with no ceremony cast into the sea.

The milkmaid’s brother dried and cured the skin and used it to make a sheath for his dirk and thus the Appin Dirk was born.

Legends of the ‘Appin Dirk’ spread around the area, becoming a symbol of the highlanders continued resistance to occupation. In 1870 the Rev. Alexander Stewart who was in the area was shown a dirk by a local man which he claimed was ‘The Appin Dirk’ He described the sheath as having a dark-brown colour, limp and soft in appearance, with no ornament except a small piece of brass at the point, and a thin edging of the same metal round the opening. Around the brass rim there was a small inscription. The initials D.M.C. and a date; 1747.

Hopefully you enjoyed these Jacobite tales and as always please like, share, comment, tweet and if you get the chance take a trip to see the Princes Flower yourself.

All the best, K & D